IF Comp 2015: SPY INTRIGUE (furkle)

The 21st annual Interactive Fiction Competition is currently on, through mid-November. Voting is open to the general public; the only prerequisite is that you not be an author, not vote on games that you tested, and submit votes on at least five games. (You emphatically do not have to have played them all! In a year with 55 entrants, it is very unlikely that most judges will get through anywhere near all of them.)

If you are looking for other reviews, this ifwiki page contains a list of places currently carrying them.

SPY INTRIGUE is a long Twine game. I played through to one ending; this took more than an hour. It tells a story of espionage in a science fiction universe in which you are controlled by a robotic spy master. There are some scenes of violence and at least one optional sex scene narrated in some detail.

Like the work that inspired it, SPY INTRIGUE is quite visceral, going for emotional effect through its poetic phrasing and its use of interface effects as well as the text and choice structure.

Two things I particularly liked about this.

First, before you die, you have flashes to other parts of your character’s life, not currently happening in the spy mission. (At first I wasn’t sure that they were flashbacks rather than interwoven thoughts from the life of someone else entirely on some other plane of existence, but by the end I was reasonably confident.) These flashbacks include some extraordinary passages: your encounters with a nanny who teaches you a curious warped rendition of Christian theology; your diagnosis of brain damage, as related to you by your mother; your suicide or near suicide. These are often quite evocative.

Second, something interesting is going on at the narrative level. Your character has an HUD display that shows, in any given moment, a little bit of information about where the links from your current node are going to go, and how many links lead off of those nodes. It doesn’t tell you whether the content of those nodes is going to be good or bad, precisely, but it gives you just enough information to function as a sort of precognition about whether you’re moving towards the next phase of the story or whether you’re pursuing a bit of side information. (The display is the bit in the grid, below:)

Screen Shot 2015-10-09 at 3.23.42 AM

It took me a little while to learn to read this display, but it was interesting information to have once I did. It’s also possible (using the arrows) to move backward and explore earlier points, which makes the story less daunting to finish than it otherwise might be.

I did feel the story could have been tighter than it was. At one point only about halfway through, I found myself quite surprised that I wasn’t reaching an ending; and during some of the midgame I felt a bit at a loss about where it was all going. I think part of the issue here is that there’s a quite effective and emotionally powerful ending to (what turns out to be) only act one of the story. Once I’d passed that point, I wasn’t quite sure what we were still going for — not because the story had become boring, precisely, but because I felt like I’d lost track of what question the narrative was even trying to answer. However, this may be largely a personal reaction.

I did enjoy the rest of the game, including a section where I played hooky from my spy mission long enough to form a meaningful relationship with someone I was supposed to be betraying.

3 thoughts on “IF Comp 2015: SPY INTRIGUE (furkle)”

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